HIGDON An Exaltation of Larks. Scenes from the Poet's Dreams. Light Refracted
In terms of her profile in the UK, Jennifer Higdon is best known for such high-octane pieces as the Percussion Concerto which has become a favourite with younger soloists. The present disc focuses on the more inward – though not thereby introspective – side of her thinking, with three pieces either written for or championed by the Lark Quartet. Of these, An Exaltation of Larks (2005) is all about integration – drawing its several gently contrasting sections into a continuous span whose dextrously contrapuntal textures and underlying ‘ecstatic lyricism’ recall the early music of Tippett in manner if not in substance. Light Refracted (2002) adopts a different strategy in which the image of the title is conveyed by two distinct movements: the ‘Inward’ process characterised by ruminative and eloquently sustained music, the ‘Outward’ process represented by compact and vigorous music that does not so much balance as cancel out its predecessor.
Arguably the finest piece is Scenes from the Poet’s Dreams (1999), in which the notional ‘dreamer’ of the title (who may or may not be embodied by the piano) moves from a deftly agile prelude, via a leisurely evocative intermezzo and vividly onomatopoeic scherzo, to a cumulatively expressive nocturne and an energetically assertive rondo. This is evocative and engaging music, with some deft left-hand pianism from Gary Graffman and a dedicated response from the Lark. It sets the seal on a disc which, with its spacious sound as well as pertinent booklet-notes, finds Higdon at her most resourceful.